How Did They Receive Your story?

How Did They Receive Your story?

You have a story. You are a story. To receive a story is to listen to the white space between the words.

I hear stories every day. You do too. But there are some stories I hear where I sense I am on sacred ground.

It’s when you feel that the other is taking some risk as they speak the hesitant words.

Words they may have told others and been rejected for.

So they have nailed the door of their heart that little bit tighter. Maybe even used super glue to seal any gaps.

But stories have to be told. Untold, they can eat away like a parasite feeding on its host.

There sits within all of us a need to be heard, known, loved, and embraced.

We were designed for oneness. That beauty of being known and knowing someone else. It’s a scent still lingering in us from Eden days. We want it, long for it. It’s in our DNA.

I receive stories

I receive stories. It’s my passion. People email me, talk on video, and sometimes meet for coffee.

Many of the stories are ones where they have reached out to share in a church setting and have been hurt. They withdraw even further.

They create a life of being perfectly acceptable to the populous but thoroughly unknown and unheard to the few.

And stories have a habit of creating their own story. We have snippets of experiences, glue them together with emotional reasoning, and out pops an interpretation. As a result, the story can take on a wild and warped life of its own.

I have often wondered why I felt to call this blog Turning the Page. It was one of those ‘Ah ha’ moments. The name felt good. I had been listening to Bob Segar’s Turn the Page, and the title grabbed me.

Some books are real page-turners. You get so absorbed in them that you rush through them, wanting to see what happens next. Other books need careful consideration if you are going to get full value.

There is a ‘turning of the page’ to the next part of the story, and then there might be a turning back to something earlier where you didn’t quite get the details right. But when you do, then everything starts to fall into place.

Some books get read over and over again because there is always something new that needs to be discovered.

Our stories are complex.

Probably the most complex and mysterious story we have in the Bible is that of a man called Job. It’s a story about us and our relationships with family, friends, and God.

It’s a deep dive into suffering and trauma. It’s a prayer journal, a book of wisdom, and a guide for anyone wanting to help. To receive Job is a mystery.

How were you received?

You come to someone with your story. You watch, you listen. You notice their responses – verbal and non-verbal.

Are they open and embracing, or are they closed and distant? Do they slowly ask questions or quickly give answers?

Have they held you in the mystery you face, or are they afraid of their own?

We long to be embraced.

An embrace involves always a double movement of opening and closing.

I open my arms to create space in myself for the other.

The open arms are a sign of discontent at being myself only and of desire to include the other.

They are an invitation to the others to come in and feel at home with me, to belong to me.

In an embrace I also close my arms around the others – not tightly, so as to crush and assimilate them forcefully into myself, for that would not be an embrace but a concealed power-act of exclusion; but gently, so as to tell them that I do not want to be without them in their otherness.

I want them in their openness.

I want them to remain independent and true to their genuine selves, to maintain their identity, and as such become part of me so that they can enrich me with what they have and what I do not. Judith M Gundry-Volf, Miroslav Volf. A spacious heart: essays on identity and belonging.

Not everyone can handle your story.

There is an expectation, I believe, that Christians, churches, and especially Pastors should be able to handle every story.

We still have the scent of Eden wafting in our souls where embracing was natural and normal. So we look to those supposedly meant to represent God and are disappointed when they don’t come through.

It’s interesting that in the book of Job, everyone lets him down.

Even God didn’t give him answers. God gave him questions. Big, bold, challenging, and alluring questions that steered Job to find his own answers. Answers that no human could have provided.

Not everyone can handle your story so let’s adjust the expectation level. Maybe only those who have ‘Been there, done that, got the T-shirt’ can truly embrace with the type of authenticity that you need.

When we don’t need the answer anymore

We like our mysteries solved. Preferably there is a ‘and they lived happily ever after’ after the struggle.

But what I want is more presence than absence.

In the dark moments, I want to know the awareness of someone, human, who doesn’t necessarily have the answers but is willing to sit with me on the ash heap.

Job sat on the pile of ashes where he was mourning. Job 2:8

The best answers come from prayer and questions that might be full of rage one moment to whimpers of pain the next.

Perhaps someone simply walking with us takes care of much of the problem.

When we are understood, when we feel another person really cares, it’s surprising how the problem, for the most part, can fade.

We don’t need the answer any more.

The mere fact that someone is carrying the burden with us, walking with us on the journey, for some unbelievable reason — it’s not logical at all — takes care of much of the problem. Richard Rohr

There’s no neat end to this post. No pretty bow on top. No list of things to do or steps to take.

Other than this.

Be the kind of person that asks more questions than gives answers.

Quotes to consider

  • No one but God can capture the full projection of one’s soul. When we’re young, we try to fall in love with the perfect person who will totally understand us, and the great disappointment is to discover that no one person can. That’s what Job is asking, almost demanding: Someone, try to understand me. When we are understood, when we feel another person really cares, it’s surprising how the problem, for the most part, can fade. We don’t need the answer any more. The mere fact that someone is carrying the burden with us, walking with us on the journey, for some unbelievable reason — it’s not logical at all — takes care of much of the problem.That’s the primary character of a true counselor, one who can receive another’s story. This is what Job asks for in his friends, and what humanity asks for in us: to skip the urge to give people answers, or to fix their problems. It seems all we can genuinely do is to be there with life. It’s the only way we can overcome death. It’s true friendship. Richard Rohr. Job and the Mystery of Suffering
  • Sensitive listeners respond to comments with words that convey an interest in hearing more. Sentences that open the door to information. Words that open doors transmit two messages: 1.’ I am interested in whatever you have to say.’ 2.’ I will accept you regardless of what you say.’ Larry Crabb
  • Learn to respond to others with honest, open questions instead of counsel or corrections. With such questions, we help “hear each other into deeper speech.” Parker J. Palmer.
  • When you speak to me about your deepest questions, you do not want to be fixed or saved: you want to be seen and heard, to have your truth acknowledged and honored. Parker J. Palmer.
  • Good work is relational, and its outcomes depend on what we are able to evoke from each other. Parker J. Palmer
  • It is usually most helpful to ask questions that are more about the person than about the problem. Parker J. Palmer
  • Only those willing to stand close enough to listen will ever hear those closest to the problem. Jim Wallis
  • Loneliness isn’t the physical absence of other people it’s the sense that you’re not sharing anything that matters with anyone else. Johann Hari 

Questions to answer

  1. How do you receive others’ stories?
  2. What are the qualities of someone who receives the story well?
  3. What does loneliness mean for you?

Further reading

When You’re Feeling Abandoned

To Reap in Joy you Need to Sow in Tears

You’re Not a Problem. It’s Not Who You Are

Barry Pearman

Photo by benjamin hershey on Unsplash

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash


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